Helping foreigners, NRIs adjust to a complex India

June 4th, 2008 - 10:16 am ICT by IANS  

By Papri Sri Raman
Chennai, June 4 (IANS) Josephine Agular is an African American who is very sad that she may have to leave Chennai without a single Indian friend after living here for two years! After all, understanding India is not easy; the cultural complexity is awe-inspiring for foreigners like her coming to India to work.

“I have excellent domestic helps and colleagues at work. But I want a friend, someone with whom I can exchange notes about this city, I can go out shopping or for a walk or to a film and then reminiscence about my time in India after I am gone from here,” Agular, who works in an MNC, told IANS.

It is for people like Josephine that Chennai-headquartered Global Adjustments (GA), a cultural adjustment organisation, is now setting up community clubs, a blog and publications on knowing India.

Explaining that with India becoming a global investment destination, more and more non-Indians are coming to the country to work and live, GA chief Ranjini Manian says: “They come with a great deal of trepidation as to what it will be like in India”.

The India stories in people’s minds are still from 17th century accounts, she says.

Then, “many of Indian origin are returning to India after 30-40 years with hesitation in their hearts”, says Manian. And they too need help in adjusting.

Today companies from 74 countries use GA’s soft skills to position employees in India. GA has set up offices in five Indian locations - Delhi, Kolkata, Pune and Bangalore besides Chennai.

“The problems can be unique and unexpected,” says the author of “Doing Business In India For Dummies”. Manian is the only Indian to be nominated to the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board.

Says Manian: “We began 13 years ago with just about Rs.5,000 and a green word processor, ideating with a friend and diplomat’s wife Joanne Grady Huskey.”

“Joanne pointed out that relocation was such a troubling experience that there ought to be an adjustment service in India. There were none then while all countries in the West had them.”

“We actually thought up the name in a matter of a few hours, went to the local paint shop and got a name board painted and started off.”

“Even for NRIs,” says Neeraj Wadhera, an executive with an international financial services company who was posted to India after 30 years in the US, “concerns of safety, infrastructure and adjustments are high”.

“Once my fears about groceries and drinking water were allied, it has been wonderful working in Bangalore,” Wadhera says.

“I did not have any viewpoint on what the new India will look like when I left India. Now I am amazed by the quality of education, the energy, the enthusiasm of young people.”

“I never expected to be a witness to the dramatic change that India is going through. I will miss most the warmth of the people when I return to the US,” she says wistfully.

Death and divorce traumatise people the most, and a third factor is relocation.

“Imagine leaving your entire way of life behind and coming thousands of miles away to live in a community where one stands out just because of height and colour of skin in a sea of people,” Manian tells IANS.

Relocation is not just about finding a house and domestic help. There are so many small things - learning to go for a walk on a bustling Indian street, finding a potted plant or negotiating a buffalo herd at a major intersection.

Generally, during a few years stay in India, “people tend to mix only with the local expatriate community because of hesitation.”

Susan M. is a top official in a multinational chemical company. She had to not only help set up the company’s offices in India but employ 300 engineers and bring in “corporate culture” to the Indian branches of her company.

But before all that, Susan had to register with the Foreigners Registration Office of the immigration department and get a permit (FRP).

“The process was so stressful, I had actually begun saying I must go back. This will not work. Had Ranjini’s team not been there, I don’t think I would have been in India today,” she confides.

“Often we have to assist a house husband,” says Manian, calling this “spouse survival”. It is this “social and business acceleration process” that has catapulted Manian to the Harvard Women’s Leadership Board.

The leadership board advises the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government on policy. “India will add great value to the board”, says Holly Sargent, founding director of the Harvard board.

(Papri Sri Raman can be contacted at paprisri.r@ians.in)

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